As Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month ends and we approach Pro Bono Week, PILI was honored to interview PILI Alum Militza Pagán, a staff attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, to highlight her impactful work throughout the state of Illinois. The Shriver Center is a multifaceted organization that provides legal aid services, advocacy, education and community resources, with the goal of eliminating economic and racial inequity. Militza works specifically on the Economic Justice Team, addressing issues such as immigrant rights and labor protection for low wage workers, specifically domestic workers.
A lifelong Chicagoan, Militza moved to the United States from Puerto Rico when she was five and always knew she wanted to work within the community. She attributes her dedication to giving back to her parents, both of whom are pastors. Militza emphasized that her present role as a lawyer is an extension of her commitment and dedication to public service that has been instilled in her since she was young.
“You should always be willing to extend a hand to others because we don’t decide the conditions we are born into.” Militza said.
During her undergraduate academic career at Yale University, Militza worked with an organization, Junta for Progressive Action, which fundamentally shaped her perspective about the power of public interest law, or as Militza calls it, ‘community driven advocacy’ or ‘community lawyering’. While at ‘Junta’, Militza worked with the organization to create one of the nation’s first “municipal ID programs” to ensure that immigrants would have access to identification and financial protection. Under the former leadership of Kica Matos, Militza realized that having a legal background would serve her goals of fundamentally changing people’s lives in a tangible way.
“For everyone to have the opportunity to realize their full potential, public interest work has to include working to change systems. This means changing laws and policies to improve conditions and give people that opportunity,” Militza emphasized.
While in law school at Chicago-Kent College of Law, Militza completed a PILI Law Student Internship at BPI (Business and Professional People for the Public Interest). As a rising leader in the local and national legal aid community, Militza emphasized the impact of having a PILI Internship during law school. She says that impact is why she has remained an active member of the Alumni Network.
“PILI provided me the opportunity to explore different types of law, organizations, and ways to be involved in the public interest community. It set me on my public interest career path. I serve on the Alumni Network Leadership Council because I want law students to have that same opportunity.” Militza added.
Conscientious and passionate about improving the condition of people’s lives, Militza doesn’t shy away from tackling complex, intersectional issues. She expressed the need to stay open, humble, and empathetic about the systemic concerns in our community.
“When we want to help people in need, we need to focus on the root causes. Poverty is the product of policy choices—not the product of individuals’ decisions.” she added.
Militza has had an exceptionally impactful career since graduating from the Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2017. Working with the Shriver Center, Militza has served individuals across Illinois, including working people, women, and immigrants. Most notably, Militza was a driving force in dismantling the “Public Charge” rule, a discriminatory federal regulation established by the Trump Administration in 2019. The regulation penalized low-income immigrants seeking to become legal permanent residents for accessing life-saving government programs and led many immigrants to forgo essential services in the midst of a pandemic.
The Shriver Center, along with other local and national advocacy organizations, created a coalition that successfully litigated against the “Public Charge” rule, which was ultimately invalidated nation-wide and dismissed by the Biden Administration. Militza commented that her work towards delegitimizing the “Public Charge” rule is one of her greatest accomplishments thus far.
“I was proud to be a part of a broad coalition of people who stood up alongside immigrants to stop this cruel rule.” Militza said.
Militza left us with inspiring words about the value of working in public interest law, specifically with the Shriver Center.
“My role as a lawyer is not to tell people how to solve their problems. People know the issues that most affect their lives and know how they want their problems solved. My role is to be a tool for people to create the change they want for themselves and their families—to support their vision for communities where everyone can thrive.”
You can read more about Militza and her work with the Shriver Center on their website.
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